Whether you are a manager of people or are being asked by someone to help evaluate an idea, one of the best and most practical skills you can develop is being able to deliver good feedback. Being able to do this is ultimately an act of being proactive in helping someone head off a potential outcome they might not immediately see. In my experience most everyone receives feedback well and is generally appreciative of a thoughtful and respectful answer. Here are four simple ways you can utilize to help increase your ability to give helpful feedback.

  1. Give the person your full and undivided attention. This may seem basic but a few initial actions can send a strong signal that will enable the conversation. Let them see you put your phone away or on silent mode. If you are in a loud environment offer to move to a quieter one. Shift your body position to one of active listening with good eye contact. Simple steps as this send an initial signal you are interested in hearing them and will serve to open the conversation well.
  2. Shut your mouth! This seems a bit counter intuitive since they are asking your opinion but this is key. You must be willing to focus on what they are saying. You do so by intentionally leading your mind not to jump to immediate answers or conclusions. I’ve found in many instances the first place my mind went was not related necessarily to where they are going with the conversation. Jumping too quickly to answers also communicates you are not listening and are simply trying to hurry the conversation and will shut the other person’s ideation down.
  3. Allow pauses in the conversation. It’s not a bad rule of thumb to try and wait at least 5 seconds before responding to the information. If you are dealing with a person who is an outward processor they likely are giving you the info in fragments, as they are thinking.  You need to allow some silence, to know they have fully shared with you what they want to share. If you are dealing with an inward processor you may need to allow them a few seconds to collect their next thought to share. Avoid filling in the silent space too quickly. Odds are, if you do, you will be doing so out of a sense of awkwardness and shutting down the fullest annunciation of what they want to say. Wait instead to speak with a sense of purpose rather than just seeking to fill a silent space.
  4. Use your experiences but don’t assume it’s the answer. Don’t be afraid to draw upon your own experiences as they may be helpful. On the other hand, don’t assume your experience is the answer they are needing. What worked for you in that circumstance may not work for them for a variety of reasons. Instead, if you believe you have a similar experience to offer, share it with them and then ask them how they think their situation is similar and different. Their responses will begin to shape the type of feedback they are searching for from you.

In the end you will be surprised how the majority of times people know what they need to do or improve on, it’s just a matter of being able to outwardly process it and validate it with someone else. That’s why you shouldn’t feel the pressure to solve their problem even though they are coming to you with one. In fact, that felt pressure is exactly where many people go wrong in attempting to give helpful feedback. Even if you don’t ultimately know a good answer to help them, you will find your greatest success in most cases, is simply being a receptive listener and letting them process it a bit with you. The world is full of opinions and short on listeners, so striving to be one who listens well is a great skill to develop.